I’ve been meditating on Matthew 11:28-30 this week in preparation for the sermon tomorrow. In it, Christ says:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (ESV).
When Jesus said that his yoke is easy and calls us to take his yoke upon ourselves, I want to know why it is easy. The Christian life is hard. Christ calls us to persevere. We are required to die to ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow the Lord Jesus. We must make disciples out of those who naturally hate the things of God and despise the actual life, words, and work of Jesus of Nazareth. We are obligated to be humble and put pride and self-centeredness away from ourselves. Most Christians will not say these things are easy. Jesus says this yoke, the yoke of following him, is easy. Why is he right in saying that?
From my study and meditation I have 3 reasons:
Jesus empowers and enables us to bear the yoke and carry the burden. “What makes the demands of Jesus to strive and vigilant seem burdensome is the assumption that we are left to ourselves… We do not naturally think that if he demands something, he will enable us to do it” (John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, Crossway: 2006, 178, underlining mine). How sweet is that! Jesus empowers and enables us to bear his yoke in following him. We have his power to defeat sin, subdue the flesh, make disciples, work out our salvation, and eat and drink and do absolutely everything we do to the glory of his Father. That’s encouraging, and with his strength, the yoke is indeed in some sense easy.
The disciple-relationship we enter into with Jesus, learning from him, makes the yoke-bearing easy. “Jesus yoke is easy (chrestos normally means ‘good’, ‘kind’), not because it makes lighter demands, but because it represents entering into a disciple-relationship (learn from me) with one who is gentle and lowly in heart (cf. 2 Cor. 10:1 for these as recognized qualities of Jesus)” (R. T. France, Matthew, Eerdmans: 1985, 201, underlining mine). What makes the yoke of following Christ easy is the fact that it is more than a responsibility, it is a relationship with Jesus wherein we learn from him and are transformed by him. That makes it a lot easier when given the great and life-encompassing commands, responsibilities, and privileges (!) of bearing the yoke.
It is consistent with who we are created and designed by God to be as humans made in his image. The idea for this reason came from reading John Calvin on Matthew 11:29 in his commentary, where he says, “He does not, he tells us, absolve men from their sins in such a manner, that, restored to the favour of God, they may sin with greater freedom, but that, raised up by his grace, they may also take his yoke upon them, and that, being free in spirit, they may restrain the licentiousness of their flesh” (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1, in Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 16, Baker, 2003, 44. Italics his, underlining is mine).
To be free in spirit is to not have anything hold you down or inhibit or oppress you. When we do things that are not in line with God’s design, we are inhibited from freely enjoying the moment with no inhibitions. One may enjoy riding in a car, and it is easy to ride in a car because the engine is doing the work of generating power to move the car. If you try to push the car it would be hard. If you step on the gas pedal, well, that is easier and takes less effort than carrying a 5 gallon water jug in the house from the car. If you work and live and exist according to your design as a human, it is easier than working hard against the design, like when God tells Paul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). We were created to enjoy God and people and this world without sin, guilt, shame, or pain. The difference is enjoying sex with one’s spouse in holiness, intimacy, and purity and enjoying sex outside of marriage. There will be real pleasure and joy in the sex-act, yet feeling guilty, dirty, and/or empty somehow inhibits the pleasure and oppresses the enjoyment from being completely free and right. When you have those two options before you, isn’t it easier to go along with what we were designed to?
We were made to enjoy God and spread that joy with freedom and gladness and hope. When we live by his power enjoying him in the ways he designed and ways that he is pleased, we are truly and deeply satisfied and content and he is glorified and honored. Everything, in that situation is in sync. What is easier than enjoying what is truly and deeply enjoyable in close personal relationship with the one who is preeminent in all the universe? The yoke, in this sense, is easy. What makes it hard is our blindness and sinful desires to not enjoy God or the things of this world in the way and orientation he designed for us.